Livingston Police Chief Ruben Chavez will continue working for the city another three years, the City Council determined unanimously this week.
Chavez accepted the Livingston police chief job in 2012 after serving 28 years at the San Jose Police Department. He replaced former Livingston Police Chief Doug Dunford, who parted ways with the city in late 2010.
Chavez’s contract was renewed for another three years during a City Council meeting Tuesday. He will receive $131,052 a year, an increase from his previous salary of $124,812, according to city documents. But Chavez will take a 5 percent pay cut, the same concession made by his police officers.
The 54-year-old told the Merced Sun-Star he’s excited at the opportunity to spend another three years in Livingston. “I’ve come to enjoy the community, and I love the people,” Chavez said. “There are some really good officers working here, and I’m excited about some of the things they’ve accomplished.”
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But there’s still more work to be done, the chief said. Despite a reduction in crime his first two years on the job, Chavez said Part 1 crimes – which include violent and property crimes – went up by 17 percent this year. The Police Department is also operating with fewer people, down one sergeant, two officers, a record manager and dispatcher.
Upon his arrival in Livingston, Chavez also encountered the challenge of gaining the community’s trust. “There was a sense of distrust (of police) amongst the community,” he said. “Maybe there were certain factors that supported their belief in that.”
Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza alluded to that tension during a City Council meeting last year, saying a number of community members complained about being “targeted” because they are Latino. But more than 73 percent of Livingston’s population is Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2010 Census Bureau data.
Espinoza told the Sun-Star during a recent interview that the number of complaints has decreased and things have improved at the Police Department. The mayor said he’s received five or six complaints in the past year, but encouraged those individuals to file a formal complaint with the police.
“A lot of people would vent their frustration. They get pulled over and because of a language barrier, they can’t ask why,” Espinoza said. “Sometimes they come to me after and I address the situation with the chief.”
Formal complaints against the Police Department have diminished drastically, Chavez said Wednesday. “We don’t get that many now,” the chief said. “We gauge how satisfied the community is with the department based on the number of complaints.”
Chavez said he improved community relations by encouraging police officers to engage with the public through classroom visits and community outreach events.
“I try to ensure officers are out there talking to people and visiting the schools,” Chavez said. “I think when the parents see the officers engaging, they realize we are real people and we care about the safety of the students.”
Chavez said his No. 1 priority over the next three years is reducing crime and ensuring that the community feels safe. He credited other police chiefs in Merced County for their mentorship and thanked Lt. Chris Soria, who was acting police chief for more than a year, for his support.
Chavez will also have a new boss within the next few months. He worked extremely well with former City Manager Jose Ramirez, who left the city last week.
“I’ve only had one city manager boss, and he was great to work with,” Chavez said. “I’m a little apprehensive and hope they pick the right fit for this community. We will get to know each other and try to do the right thing for our community.”